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Pac-12 notebook: Smell of Rose in the air for ASU, UCLA

Quarterback Taylor Kelly and Arizona State can clinch Pac-12 South by beating UCLA on Saturday. (Associated Press)
Quarterback Taylor Kelly and Arizona State can clinch Pac-12 South by beating UCLA on Saturday. (Associated Press)

PULLMAN – For much of the college football season it appeared that the matchup between Oregon and Stanford on Nov. 7 was going to be the game of the year in the Pac-12. And while Stanford’s 26-20 upset of the Ducks in the matchup between BCS contenders certainly had no shortage of fireworks, this weekend’s affair between Arizona State and UCLA in Pasadena is just as important.

The game between the two Pac-12 North powers will likely keep the Ducks out of the national title hunt, but have very little effect on the standings otherwise. Because Stanford lost to Utah and USC, the Cardinal still trail Oregon in the division standings.

But with a win on Saturday the Sun Devils (8-2, 6-1 Pac-12) can clinch the Pac-12 South and assure themselves the chance to play for a Rose Bowl berth in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

“We talk about it all the time. It’s something we’ve been talking about it all year long and every time we walk in the door here we talk about having one goal: winning a championship and winning every day,” ASU coach Todd Graham said. “That’s something we talk to them about. There hasn’t been a day that’s gone by this season we haven’t talked about the Pac-12 South championship, and the Pac-12 championship and the Rose Bowl championship.”

The chance to play for a Rose Bowl berth is on the line for the Bruins as well, although they can’t do it all at once. UCLA (8-2, 5-2) can win the Pac-12 South by beating the Sun Devils and USC the following week.

On paper, the teams appear very evenly matched. UCLA’s defense allows just 23.7 points per game, while ASU holds opponents to 24.4 points per game. The Sun Devils are second in the conference with a 42.3 scoring average, the Bruins are third at 37.0.

The game will be a rematch of last year’s game, which UCLA won when Ka’imi Fairbairn hit a field goal as time expired. There were 1,000 yards of total offense in that game, as UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley and ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly combined to pass for eight touchdowns and nearly 600 yards.

While the Bruins have the benefit of playing at home, ASU boasts one of the most experienced defenses in the conference. Keeping Hundley upright will be crucial for the UCLA offensive line, which starts three freshmen.

“I think they start eight seniors on defense,” UCLA coach Jim Mora said. “So they’re a veteran group, they know how to play, they play hard, they’ve got a good scheme, their head coach is a defensive-minded guy. It’s going to be a heck of a test all the way around on offense.”

UCLA has represented the Pac-12 South in the conference championship game the past two seasons.

Riley upbeat despite streak

Oregon State put together a six-game winning streak that called to mind last season when the Beavers were ranked as high as No. 7 in the country before finishing the season at No. 19 in in the polls.

But an eight-point loss to Stanford was followed by losses to USC and ASU, meaning that the Beavers have gone over a month since their last win. Still, coach Mike Riley remains upbeat about his team.

“I think there’s disappointment but this is a good group,” Riley said. “They came back yesterday and practiced well. They’re going to be fine that way, they’re not quitting or anything like that, I’m not worried about that. It’s a good group, we’ve competed hard we just haven’t played well enough to win all the way around.”

The Beavers will host Washington on Saturday night before traveling to Eugene to finish their regular season with the Civil War against Oregon